He’s unlikely to miss the money, but Bill Gates is coming to terms with the fact that neither Jerry Seinfeld, nor a $300m (£160m) investment, can succeed in making him look cool.
The world’s richest man has axed Microsoft’s bizarre new television commercial, in which he starred alongside the New York comedian, just two weeks after a disastrous launch, when it was described as one of the worst ads in history.
Critics panned the sketch, in which Gates and Seinfeld awkwardly trade banter after meeting at a suburban shoe shop, as obtuse, unwatchable, and insufficiently funny.
Its message was ambiguous, they claimed. In a monument to either commercial hubris or professional incompetence, it neglected to once mention the words “Windows Vista”, the product it was meant to be promoting.
Instead, the 90-second ad showed Seinfeld asking Gates a series of nonsensical questions, apparently regarding the future of computing. The 52-year-old billionaire responds with “signs” that he’s in touch with the zeitgeist, including “adjusting his shorts” and doing “the robot”, a dance move previously associated with the beanpole England footballer Peter Crouch.
Whatever its purpose, the decision to pay Seinfeld $10m to star in the campaign also backfired. The comedian’s eponymous show was axed 10 years ago, and viewers said that instead of giving Microsoft a fresh image, he succeeded in portraying it as a fading brand from yesteryear.
Yesterday, the shoe-store advert disappeared. Seinfeld was replaced by several more modish celebrities, including the Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria, the singer Pharrell Williams, and the author Deepak Chopra. Gates was also conspicuous by his absence from the new Microsoft campaign, which prominently features the magic words: “Windows Vista”.
The first Seinfeld Microsoft advert
Microsoft insisted the doomed adverts had achieved their |primary aim of “getting talked about”. A spokesman also claimed that they had never been meant to remain on air for longer than a couple of weeks.
“The notion that we’re doing some quick thing to cancel [the Seinfeld ads] is actually preposterous,” said Mich Matthews, a senior vice-president in the firm’s marketing group. “Today was always the day [that would happen]. Media buying is something you have to do months in advance.” Mr Matthews insisted that the Seinfeld ad, which first aired in the US during the famously expensive half-time slot in a round of Sunday afternoon American football games, was designed as an “icebreaker”, with a limited shelf life.
Its purpose was to grab people’s attention in a tongue-in-cheek way without the pressure of having to talk about the product, he said. “We wanted to be sure that when we do come out with our major message, ‘Life Without Walls’, more people would be paying attention than they would otherwise,” he told the Associated Press. “My goodness, did we do that!”
The campaign marks Mr Gates’s latest attempt to steal thunder from his more modish rival Apple, which has grabbed market share in recent years with a series of celebrity-based commercials portraying Microsoft’s product as both outdated and unfashionable.
Although Seinfeld and Mr Gates are unlikely to return to America’s small screens, they were still attracting ridicule |and disbelief on video-sharing internet sites yesterday.
Many viewers debated the purpose of their conversation about unfashionable shoes, and were baffled by a short sequence in which Seinfeld is shown soaping himself down in a shower, while fully clothed.
Even ad industry pundits, who normally applaud and even offer awards for inventiveness, were nonplussed by the commercial, which was scripted by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, an agency with a reputation for oddness.
“Huh?” wrote Abbey Klaassen in Ad Age. “You could be forgiven for not knowing what the heck Microsoft’s new ad was about.”